I’m way too old for this.
As I write this, I’m on a flight from Las Vegas to Philadelphia. I have absolutely no reason to go to Philadelphia. In fact I’ll be spending approximately 90 minutes in Philadelphia before I turn around and go back to Las Vegas.
Indiana Jones says it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. Right now I’m running up both faster than I can count.
Conventional Wisdom says mileage runs are dead. Airfares are too high, planes are too full, the loyalty programs are too onerous. I almost certainly wouldn’t be doing this myself if there hadn’t been a one-time opportunity to rack up both US Airways Chairman’s status and future AAdvantage Executive Platinum status at the same time (along with a bunch of American systemwide upgrades to boot).
(I’ll be writing in more detail about my mileage runs in the next few weeks — in the meantime you can check out “The last great mileage run” on Frequent Miler or follow the Twitter hashtag #30kToNowhere if you want to know more about our trip.)
But the question for today is… is the mileage run truly dead? Or has it just evolved?
This community is all about finding opportunity in places where others see none. Mileage running might not be as easy as it used to be, but are there a few methods left to create effective mileage runs? Can we leverage enough deals and promotions to still make a trip to nowhere worth our while?
Has the mileage run simply moved from being an intermediate trick to an expert one?
Mileage runs have always been about elite status.
“The airlines have destroyed mileage runs,” the Conventional Wisdomers tell us. “Delta and United don’t even count flown miles in their loyalty programs anymore and American is likely not far behind. Even elite status miles, which are still miles flown, now also require elite status dollars. You can’t make a cheap mileage run worthwhile.”
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing. Mileage runs are about elite status, not redeemable miles.
OK, yes, I’m sure there are a couple folks out there who were willing in the distant past to sit in economy from New York to Seattle to Europe and back just for the redeemable miles and now won’t do it because of Delta’s and United’s changes. Those people are either super young with all the time in the world and a high tolerance for discomfort (and bless you all, I wish I still had even one of those two things) or super crazy (and bless you all too, just please stay away from anything that might be more dangerous than mileage running, like say, fire).
But most folks were only willing to do crazy mileage runs in order to achieve or keep their elite status (and ideally fly the trip itself up front as well that way). The redeemable miles were icing on the cake. So the changes to the redeemable miles side of these loyalty programs don’t really matter that much.
What about the elite qualifying dollars requirement? Conventional Wisdomers are correct that it’s impossible to meet the elite dollars requirement if all you’re doing are cheap mileage runs. But luckily for us, the airlines are still beholden to the banks and the hundreds of millions of dollars those banks pay them for credit card miles. That’s why both Delta and United give us the ability to waive the elite dollars requirement by spending $25,000 in a calendar year on their co-branded credit cards.
“Hey, Devil’s Nitwit!” growl the Conventional Wisdomers. “You do know most people don’t have the ability to spend $25,000 on credit cards, don’t you? And not everyone is comfortable with manufacturing spend.”
True. But by definition, mileage running is a pretty bizarre tactic. It’s not something the average person is going to even think about, let alone attempt. To people outside of our community, mileage runners seem like pretty fanatical people who are willing to jump through a lot of hoops and push the envelope to get what they want.
Hmmmm… that also sounds like the same type of people who are manufactured spenders.
I’m not suggesting that every mileage runner is also going to be comfortable with manufacturing spend. But it’s the same type of person who’s willing to engage in both activities. I don’t have any hard data on this, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that there’s probably a ton of crossover in the subset of folks who mileage run and the subset of folks who manufacture spend.
Airfares are higher, but you can still find deals.
Keri of Heels First Travel is sitting next to me here in First Class with a glass of red wine in her hand (which, for the record, gives her more credibility in my book) as she expounds on her views of mileage running. She’s a US Airways Chairman Preferred elite with over 100,000 miles of flying each year, much of it from mileage runs.
She argues that mileage running has become more opportunistic. I think that nails it. Yes, we can no longer routinely find $300 roundtrip fares from the United States to Europe. But we can still find them if we’re paying attention.
One of my favorite sites is The Flight Deal, where they do nothing but find deals where you can pay $300 to go to Europe. I love them so much that I have their tweets texted to my phone. This is very handy if you’re out with friends. In fact I recommend loudly announcing every flight deal that comes in on your phone. “Hey guys, who wants to fly El Al from Miami to Tel Aviv for $438 roundtrip?” “Yaaaaaaaay!”
Just in the last few weeks The Flight Deal found an entire series of super low fares to Europe and the Middle East & Asia. Not all of these fares could be used in a mileage run, but some of them could. Another perfect example is the flight I’m on right now. It cost me $75 roundtrip to go from Las Vegas to Philadelphia, so I booked 5 of them. That’s 1.9 cents per mile, which is just as low as the ultra low fares that used to be more plentiful.
It’s a matter of finding the right fare for your needs. That super low fare is not going to pop up every day, but it does still pop up. Finding it may take longer than it used to, but it can still be found.
Status trials and credit cards can still be leveraged.
When the situation changes, we have to change with it. Gone are the days when triple EQM promotions were plentiful, but we can take advantage of credit cards that offer bonus elite miles to mix in with our mileage run stash. Airlines want to emphasize their credit cards, so let’s play along.
Another great way to leverage mileage runs is by using status trials like the one we’re doing now. While this particular run was a unique opportunity, it’s not the first and won’t be the last. Just a few months ago I wrote about how one could leverage a Delta mileage run with Delta’s Platinum status trial (see “Acquiring Delta Platinum Status (and a Backache) with Just One Mileage Run“). That’s a mileage run I stumbled onto when I was searching for runs for this promotion, but it only took a few minutes to realize the value of putting it together with the status trial.
You have to keep thinking outside the box to find the maximum use in your mileage runs.
The Devil’s Advocate believes mileage running nowadays just requires more planning.
We always talk in the points and miles community about adapting to the latest deal, the hottest trend, the newest method. People look back fondly at the old days and talk about how easy it was to rack up Vanilla Reload miles with a single trip to CVS. Vanilla Reloads are gone but that doesn’t mean manufactured spend is dead. It just means folks have found other methods that take a bit more effort.
The same is true of mileage running. It’s not dead, but it takes more effort to make it worthwhile. We can either acknowledge that and find new ways to mileage run, or we can wax poetic about the times when one could rack up elite status and reams of redeemable miles by rowing a Northwest canoe from LaGuardia to Manhattan.
Personally, I don’t like to give up, so put me in the former camp. But also remember that I’m way too old for this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to catch a flight back to Las Vegas in a few minutes.
Devil’s Advocate is a weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by sending an email to email@example.com.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
- Are Loyalty Programs Without Blackout Dates Always Better?
- I’m Switching My Loyalty and I (Don’t) Really Mean It This Time!
- Before Joining a Loyalty Program, Pick Your Destinations First
Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.